Let’s talk about something other than the traditional form of the phrase “higher power”.
Let’s instead talk about totems. Items. Tangible, real things that we hold as higher powers. The idea of Step 2 is that a power much greater than ourselves can restore ourselves to sanity. Does that power HAVE to be a religious one? Do we have to look at it in that light? Can it just be SOMETHING that is beyond just “us”?
While I want to write one more post (at least) in this step on this subject, I’m going to specifically talk about items and totems here. Specifically, one that is symbolic to me…and one that is symbolic to my father.
I have horrible night terrors. I wanted to write how “growing up” I had horrible night terrors but that isn’t entirely true. While children are supposed to grow out of night terrors, mine have only increased substantially as I grew older. While they’ve waned significantly over the last few years, they are none-the-less a constant part of my life.
The dreams are always the same, as far back as I can remember. I am frozen. Typically, this is on a bed, although not always. Something, or someone, is coming for me. In some versions, it’s a spider, dangling down on its spindle thread. Sometimes it’s an intruder with a knife. Sometimes it’s someone berating me for failing. Sometimes it’s nothing at all…it’s just a feeling of perpetual suffocation because I cannot move.
The terrors always end in me awakening myself from screaming.
In my room, above my bed, I have a dream catcher. I’ve had multiple throughout the years, the most recent created by Native American artists in a small town in rural Maine. Occasionally I cleanse it, moving a crystal over the strings to drive away the evilness that has gotten trapped in it.
As much as I don’t like to admit it, that dream catcher makes it easier to close my eyes at night. It grounds me. I find in the days immediately after a cleansing, even the month or so after, I sleep through the night. I don’t wake up screaming. And when I do, I can usually fall back asleep by staring at it, the amethyst and jade crystals sewn into the strings almost lulling me to sleep.
The dream catcher is my totem. It has a power over me, a power that rescues me from the things that torment me in my sleep. Now I know, in the logical part of my brain that dominates, that there is very little chance that catcher is more than decoration. I’m not sure that I totally believe that cleansing it is really doing more than giving me peace of mind. But isn’t that peace of mind ENOUGH? Isn’t restoring my ability to sleep ENOUGH? Without it, I am restless. Without it I am almost guaranteed to have a night terror, or a sleepless night, or strange dreams I can’t quite comprehend but I know leave me awake breathless and shook. It keeps me grounded to reality.
I never quite “got” the concept that a power greater than ourselves could be an item until talking to my father. When I first started attending meetings, I always saw higher power as a clear alignment with religion. But one night, he had been sober at that point for about a year, and was rearranging his AA medallions. I had always noticed that they sat in a box by his bed, but that he carried a different medallion with him in his pocket on a daily basis. When I asked to see it he showed me it was the medallion given to him for completing rehab…the first time around, not the third. I was confused as to why he had kept it, let alone why he used it every day. It couldn’t possibly have the meaning his 1 day, 1 month, 6 month, or especially 1 year coin could have. All I could see was a piece of medal from a place that had failed to “fix” him.
When I asked, he answered me with only two words (which was pretty typical for him, even after he stopped drinking).
For me, my dream catcher is a totem that brings a lightness to my sleep. It forgives me of my troubles. It lifts away my demons. It frees me.
For him, his coin is a totem that brings weight to his being. In later years, mostly at meetings, I would hear him talk about that coin. How the heft in his pocket reminded him that his alcoholism was never GONE: that he was pushing through it each and every day, even if he was also moving farther and farther away from its grasp. How the weight reminded him of the burden he had put on me and my mother, how his actions had had significant consequences. He said it was a constant reminder every day to thank God that he had finally gotten on his path and to keep the motivations of the program with him. It reminded him of his failures in rehab but also of his accomplishments. It was something he could feel, put his hands on, feel brush against him when he walked. It kept him grounded…the same way my dream catcher kept me grounded.
His totem was a higher power because his experiences were a higher power, and that kept him sane. And maybe, as non-addicts, that’s all the second step might mean to us. It may be as trivially simple as having something in our lives that reminds us to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe it is something that helps us sleep. Gets us going. Forgives us of our troubles. Keeps us from over analyzing, over feeling, or ruminating. Maybe for some of us, restoration doesn’t come from something we cannot see, but instead from something we can.